Imperialism, Capitalism, Technology & Science

The driving force of the entire system is new technology. What makes present-day Imperialism different from that of previous empires is the struggle for profit and the driving forces of the new technologies. I can best illustrate technology as a driving force by reference to a few of the awe-inspiring changes that have occurred in the recent past. In every case, previous generations could not have imagined, even in their wildest dreams, the changes that have occurred. Let me illustrate.

The Steam Engine: The combustion engine was initially developed in England to draw water out of coal mines which were getting ever deeper. Once wheels were added and rails laid, the modern-day railway was invented. Suddenly, as if in the twinkle of an eye, people could travel at thirty miles an hour, and within decades the invention had spread to many parts of the globe. In the US, the great prairies were opened up and cheap com was being sold throughout Europe. The railway literally revolutionised transport as nothing had done so before.

The Electric Light: The use of the light bulb created daytime twenty-four hours a day. Previously, everyone’s life had been determined by the hours of day and night. Suddenly, human beings were able to work and be productive throughout the hours of night.

Weaponry: The same huge leaps in technology occurred in weaponry. The major Imperial power realised very early on that the research and development in superior weaponry was the sine qua non of world dominance. The repeater gun, the Gatling gun that would fire bullets repeatedly, enabled a single gunner to drive back and defeat hordes of people armed with the traditional weapons of the region.

The Gatling gun represents, symbolically the use of the superior weaponry that has characterised world dominance ever since: from nuclear fission and the atomic bomb to the present day whereby bombs and weapons can be launched from hundreds of miles from the target and guided precisely. The Imperial power has now and indeed always has attempted both to manufacture and dominate the world market in vastly superior weaponry.

Science and technology are at the heart of the system I am describing. And there is no doubt that there are a multitude of advantages since science and technology are at the heart of the system of domination in the world today.

We can finally see what happens when, in self-defence and to avoid being invaded, weaker countries attempt to possess some of the weapons of mass destruction. The hegemonic powers want to be the only ones to possess such weapons, otherwise they could not threaten without opposition. The recent examples of North Korea, Iran and Iraq are obvious and clear; Pakistan is possibly next on the list. The weapons of mass destruction held by Israel are ignored by the US as Israel is seen as part of the frontline of their empire and strategically as part of themselves.

The relationships between technology, development and Imperialism are enormous and are barely touched upon here. But it is clear now as it was to the Japanese in the 1860s that if a country does not equip its citizens with the latest technical knowledge of the West, across all the disciplines of science, there is no chance of resisting adequately. The dominance that technology provides to the West is not by itself a sufficient condition to resist, but it is undoubtedly a necessary one.

Roger van Zwanenberg


Source: Essays on Muslims and the Challenges of Globalisation, Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad. Republished with permission.
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